Dr. Lee E. Goldstein of Boston University's School of Medicine said mice developed evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy two weeks after exposure to a single simulated blast.
"Our paper points out in a profound and definitive way that there is an organic, structural problem in the brain associated with blast exposure," Goldstein told The New York Times. "Not long ago, people said NFL players with behavior problems were just having problems adjusting to retirement. Now it's more or less settled that there is a disease associated with their problems. But we do not have that consensus in the military world yet."
The military has confirmed traumatic brain injury -- which many consider the precursor to chronic traumatic encephalopathy -- in more than 220,000 of the 2.3 million troops that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.
There is no way to estimate how many combat veterans might develop the disease, Goldstein said.
Goldstein and his co-lead author, Dr. Ann McKee, co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University, said their findings -- published in the journal Science Translational Medicine -- indicate many combat veterans might have organic brain injuries and should be treated as well as awarded disability compensation.